Little shocks Université de Montréal criminologist Marc LeBlanc anymore, but the latest statistics on youth crime, which indicate that Québec adolescents are becoming more violent than ever before, were enough to give him pause.

In a 1990 report on an ongoing study of youth violence, Professor LeBlanc concluded that the rate of violent youth crime in Québec had stabilized. In 1997, he revised his study based on data collected over a 30-year period from Montréal police files and his own sample groups, and was surprised to find that, not only has the rate of youth violence continued to increase, but the type of violent crime committed by young people has become more serious.

These results were completely unexpected, and difficult to explain using the conventional scientific wisdom. As the population ages it is reasonable to expect a shift in criminal activity away from gratuitous violence against the person to less violent types of crime involving property, including white-collar crime such as tax evasion and black-market activities.

Professor LeBlanc ruled out demographic shifts, immigration, or changes in the Criminal Code as reasons for increasing youth violence. The availability of firearms or a thriving drug trade, both of which have been blamed in U.S. studies, do not appear to be significant factors in Canada. Other researchers reject family or economic conditions as possible explanations of youth violence because these factors are not restricted to just one type of family but may occur in all types of families—single-parent families, large traditional families, affluent families, and families just getting by.

Logical consequence

The increase in both the number and the seriousness of violent youth crimes in Québec and in other Western societies is the logical consequence of the destruction of the traditional understanding of morality and society, which began in the 18th century as a decline in religious faith and proceeded apace in the 19th and 20th centuries. While the Reformation divided Europe and its territories in the New World into opposing religious camps, the traditional world view which linked politics to the spiritual ends of human life remained intact.

The French Revolution changed all of this and introduced a different world view based on an atheistic view of humanity. A myth was created to supplant the account of Genesis, asking us to imagine man in a state of nature, a free agent with no one else in command—no pope, no Caesar, no authoritative scripture. Rather than kings receiving unrestricted authority to govern from God, the new myth supposes an unrestricted authority, and indeed a natural right, on the part of individuals.

French “Enlightenment” philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau rejected the principle of Original Sin and replaced it with a belief in natural goodness based on the notion of inborn divinity, which assumes that in a natural state—that is, without the “corruption” of society—the child would develop natural virtues almost automatically, the way a bud unfolds into a flower. Whereas the French Revolution changed the political order, the Industrial Revolution obliterated the social and cultural order, reduced economic pressures, and opened the way to individual boredom and the wastelands of modern suburbia and consumerism.

In Québec, the effects of the shift in world view from belief in God to the meaninglessness of atheism have been tragically harsh. Like the raging Saguenay River in the great flood of 1996, the Quiet Revolution swept away most of the traditions and institutions of Québec society, including the once-venerable Catholic Church, the schools, and the family.

Throughout its history, the inner need for pervasive meaning was satisfied by religion. The decline of religion did not eliminate the need for meaning, but shifted the search to a secular belief system which became the exclusive domain of the intellectual class.

Intellectuals are influential out of all proportion to their numbers. As Robert Bork writes in his bookSlouching Towards Gomorrah, intellectuals may be intellectually negligible, but they are an important cultural force because they wield the power of language and symbols, and because their values and ideas are broadcast by the press, movies, television, universities, primary and secondary schools, books and magazines, philanthropies, foundations, and many churches. For some intellectuals meaning may be found in devotion to a field like scientific inquiry, but for the vast majority, for whom no such levels of achievement are possible, politics must be the answer. To be a civil religion, however, this politics cannot be the politics of mundane clashes of material interests and compromises. It must be a politics of ideology.

Secular religion

The religious impulse which underlies much of Québec society has been repackaged as a secular religion which offers a comprehensive world view based on language and culture and a promise of ultimate salvation in a utopia that conventional politics cannot offer. The reality is more ominous.

Québec has abandoned its cultural traditions, rejected the Catholic Church, which has been its historic source of strength and protection, and embarked on a path of cultural and sexual suicide.

The family, which formed the backbone of Québec society, and the traditional sexual constitution on which it rested, have been destroyed. The traditional instruments of male and female socialization have disappeared, leaving society exposed to the dangers of short-term violent male sexual insecurity and long-term decline and extinction.

Faced with a birthrate below replacement level and an aging population, Québec has irrationally promoted the massacre by abortion of its unborn generations, and opted for more expensive, less effective, government-dependent population policies, including increased immigration and cash payments for newborns.

The moral destruction of Québec society has been accelerated by ideologically motivated changes in the education system. In spite of opposition from parents and some educators, schools switched from an objective standard of traditional moral character education to an untested radical new educational theory known as “decision making,” based on Rousseau’s Romanticist notion that any value system is acceptable so long as it is self-discovered and “feels right.”

Traditional character education is an overall comprehensive form of moral education based on the recognition that, there is a God, and, due to Original Sin, goodness is not any easy project. The decision-making model, on the other hand, is based on the simple minded assumption that morality is an act of reason, not of the will and character. It assumes that children will learn to make good moral decisions through rational debate and discussion about moral issues, without bothering to acquire moral habits or strength of character.

The claim by sex educators that children are free to choose the sexual behaviour which best suits their personal situation is somewhat disingenuous when we consider that abstinence requires a great deal more discipline than other types of behaviour and that training in self control and modesty is systematically withheld from them in contemporary society.

Moral education

The real test of the efficacy of moral education is not whether a child has “advanced” ideas about race, gender, or abortion, but how he actually behaves. Having the “right” attitude about the environment or civil rights does not always translate into an understanding of the moral dimension of one’s actions, how to keep one’s adult commitments to wife and children, or how to achieve a reduction in brutal youth crimes and murder.

The reality of the decision-making model is that the natural thing is to put yourself first and take the easy, if violent, way out.

Despite high rates of teenage pregnancy and abortion, increased suicide rates, substance abuse, and violence, the same educators and experts – who cling to failed pedagogical methods to teach reading and mathematics – still insist, for ideological reasons, on imposing a failed philosophy of moral education on our young people.

Why is anyone surprised that violent youth crime in Québec and elsewhere has increased?

Michael Farrell, PhD, teaches at the Université de Québec. He is a long-time contributor to The Interim.